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Tang Studies 25 (2007) A TANG VERSION OF DU FU: THE TANGSHI LEIXUAN ~~~J[~ STEPHEN OWEN HARVARD UNIVERSITY The writers who constitute the very top of any literary canon for a long period present us with an interesting problem of judgment. Some say that the greatness of such writers is self-evident, a judgment that is so often and so easily confirmed that we must grant it a certain empirical validity. Another way to think about this fact, however, is to historicize it, to say that the most famous works by canonical writers have themselves become important constituents in the historical formation of literary values, so that judgments of such works will always reproduce themselves, reinforcing both the canonical status of the works in question and the values by which they are judged. A degree of variation is usually allowed-I may prefer Richard II to Richard III or Qjuxing bashou fj(~J\ § to Bingju xing~.$ 1T-but the very top of a literary canon serves its basic cultural purpose, which is to invite members of a cultural community to experience apparently shared values and the long-term continuity of those values as spontaneously reproduced within themselves. Literary canons are usually (but not always) retrospectively constructed. The Greek tragedies that we have through the repeated copying in the Byzantine school system from a canon established by Alexandrian critics were not necessarily the plays that won the prizes. The same was true in China. Some writers were canonical figures in their own day and remained so (Cao Zhi, Xie Lingyun, Su Shi); others had to wait for later generations to stake a claim on their importance. With such delayed preeminence the period when the canon is "under construction" can be unsettling to those who wish to believe that the preeminent value of certain works is both permanent and self-evident. The ever-changing canon of Tang poetry has been, by and large, based on values and judgments of particular poems that go back to the young print culture of the Song. Among Tang anthologies, Yin Fan's ~~:EI Heyue yingling ji 1EJ-ffi5€ II~ of 753 is reassuring by its inclusion of a number of poets and poems that have remained in the canon, even if a full reading of the anthology offers more surprises than old favorites. From the perspective of Song and later taste in Tang poetry, the other anthologies from the Tang itself are more perplexing in the values that informed the anthologists' choices. The Guoxiu ji ~:*~, whose initial form dates to 744, but whose present form postdates Heyue yingling ji, also represents 57 Owen: A Tang version of Du Fu High Tang poetry; it contains a few canonical works, but the most extensively represented High Tang poet is Lu Zhuan mtf€, whose poetry has remained largely ignored ever since that anthology and who survives entirely through that anthology. In the early ninth century, Liu Yuxi referred to "Lu and Du" rather than "Li and DU."l "Lu" here may refer to the somewhat less obscure Lu Xiang J1t~, but Liu Yuxi may have been thinking ofLu Zhuan from Guoxiu ji. Because Heyue yinglingji mostly supports later taste in Tang poetry, it has been taken as the most important contemporary anthology of High Tang poetry. Guoxiu ji, whose taste continues in later anthologies from the eighth century, is largely ignored. This is the norm: we judge the variety of materials in the past and grant them importance by how well they support and contribute to the narrative of what was to come. By and large we remember the Tang anecdotes and references to Tang poems that are still read, while ignoring the much larger range of reference to Tang poetry that is no longer part of the canon. Du Fu presents an interesting case. We know that from the early ninth century Du Fu and Li Bai, "Li and Du," were invoked as the canonical names that represented the height of poetry in the dynasty. Our current collection of Ou Fu, however, consists of over 1400 poems of a great variety of interests and styles, so that the more significant question becomes, just which poems by Du Fu...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1759-7633
Print ISSN
0737-5034
Pages
pp. 57-90
Launched on MUSE
2021-04-08
Open Access
No
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